‘Mindfulness’ may help students learn


Mindfulness training may improve achievement, reports Emily Deruy in The Atlantic. A Chicago study is looking for evidence of effectiveness of breathing and relaxation exercises or asking students to focus on a feeling or emotion.

Children learn to focus, handle transitions and recover quickly from upsets, said Amanda Moreno, an assistant professor at the Erikson Institute, a child-development-focused graduate school in Chicago. That frees up time for learning.

Moreno said she’s heard from teachers with students who have gone from five or six tantrums a day to none because they know they can go to their classroom’s “calm spot” whenever they feel like they’re spiraling out of control.

The program seems to be helping good schools get better, she said. It doesn’t do much for schools that lack a sense of community or a commitment to learning.

Mindfulness aims to “create compliant students who can manage their own behavior, focus on their assignments, and calm themselves when angry or frustrated with school,” wrote David Forbes in Salon.

That’s a bad thing, he argues. “Such students can then turn into passive, unquestioning consumers and cooperative workers who will help their corporate employers better compete in the global economy.”

People who can manage their own behavior also are a lot less likely to end up in prison.

More learning leads to less violence


Philadelphia schools cut teachers and counselors, but not security guards. Photo: Matt Rourke, AP

Raising test scores may be the best way to prevent school violence, according to a new California study, reports Hechinger’s Jill Barshay. Safety doesn’t come first, the study found.

Schools that reduced violence and improved school climate tended not to produce academic gains afterwards. Instead, the researchers found, schools that first raised academic performance usually got large reductions in school violence. School climate indicators, such as whether students feel safe, also improved in schools that first increased test scores.

Surveys of students in middle and high school were compared with school test scores over a six-year period. Researchers were surprised to see that “academic gains preceded school safety and climate improvements,” writes Barshay.

“The best violence prevention is a school that works very hard to improve academics,” said Ron Avi Astor, a USC professor and co-author. “The school climate and school bullying researchers should continue their work, but, for intervention strategies, if they tie in with the school reform movement on academics, they will get a bigger bang for their buck.”

Do flabby kids want flabby heroes?

To protect children from “fat shaming,” teenage cartoon characters should be fattened up, argues Project Know. Characters  “idealize a body type that’s increasingly unattainable for many.”

Gohan

Project Know starts with Robin, writes William Hicks. “A character that literally spends his nights running across roof tops, fighting bad guys and training with Batman in the Bat Cave. So how dare he shame us with his slim physique!”

Gohan, a powerful fighter eager to save the earth, is too muscular for Project Know. “Teens are unlikely to see their physique being reflected in his defined chest and arms that ripple with muscles.” Their version is flabbier.

Do kids really want their cartoon heroes to be realistic? Where’s the fun in that?

First-gen students help each other through UT


“La Raza” members kayak on Barton Springs in Austin with visiting friends from home during Spring Break 2014. From left to right: Perla de la O (foreground), Zarina Moreno, Xenia Garcia, Bianca de la O, Jose R. Peña. Photo: Courtesy of Perla de la O.

Going from Roma, Texas, a ranching town on the Mexican border, to the University of Texas in Austin is a huge leap, writes Lillian Mongeau in the Washington Monthly.

“It was overwhelming,” Jesús “Nacho” Aguilar, 23, said. “It was also liberating.”

Mongeau, who taught English in Roma for Teach for America, asked Jesús, Tomás González, 23, Perla de la O, 22, and Eduardo Rios, 20, how they succeeded at UT despite the culture shock.

They helped each other, the Roma grads said. They call their homegrown network La Raza or just “the group.”

The group holds potlucks featuring food from home. They get each other jobs. They help the newest Roma-grads-cum-UT-freshmen find housing, the laundromat, and free food on campus. They share textbooks and help each other with homework. They carpool home for the holidays. They ask each other: How do you sign up for health insurance? Can you explain this financial aid form? Where is the registrar’s office? When someone is sick, they cook him dinner. When someone is lonely, they talk. When someone is struggling, they encourage her to reach out to resources on campus they know can help.

. . . “You think you’re the only one struggling,” Jesús said. “But no. Everyone is in the same boat.”

Seeing each other struggle, knowing you’re not the only one crying in the shower that first desperately hard semester — that’s what gets you through, Tomás said.

Students who’d aced AP Calculus at Roma High discovered they were not prepared for UT classes.

“On his first college test, Jesús, a star student at home, earned a 50 percent,” Mongeau writes. He worried he was letting others down. “When I experienced failure, it wasn’t just my own failure,” he said.

The Roma students found helpful programs at the university, “special scholarships, offices full of mentors, friendly professors and former Roma TFAs who live in Austin and host welcome dinners for freshmen,” writes Mongeau. Now they advise younger students to join organizations and look for help.

“There are people looking out for people like us,” Eduardo said. “But we have to find them.”

Several members of La Raza “posed” for a photo at Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas in 2013. From left to right: Valeria Molina, who now lives in New York City, Jonathan Peña, Travis Pham, Tomás González, Jesús Aguilar and Ziyad Alghamdi, who is not from Roma but was adopted by the group. Photo: Courtesy of Perla de la O.

Teaching courtesy, etiquette

Alphonso Hawes, 10, “learned how to be a gentleman to a woman” in the after-school etiquette club at Baltimore’s Shady Springs Elementary. “I learned how to speak properly,” he told Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie. “I learned how to write thank you letters. I learned how not to bully.”

Joshua Black, a fourth grader, participates in "Guys with Ties, Girls in Pearls," an after-school etiquette club: Photo Baltimore Sun

Joshua Black, a fourth grader, participates in “Guys with Ties, Girls with Pearls,” an after-school etiquette club. Photo: Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun

Wendy Carver, a guidance counselor, started “Guys with Ties, Girls with Pearls” four years ago. “It has been my hope that by teaching the students manners and etiquette they will become more respectful of others and themselves,” she said.

Thursday is an optional dress-up day for fourth- and fifth-graders. Boys are encouraged to wear jackets and ties, the girls to wear dresses and skirts.

Once a month, students stay after school to learn “how to correctly pull out a chair for a lady, how to write a thank you note, and what they should or shouldn’t say on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat,” writes Bowie. About half the fourth- and fifth-graders choose to participate.

Teacher Julie Taylorson was teaching Internet etiquette to a group of children one afternoon.

Before posting anything on social media, she told them, ask yourself three questions: Is it nice? Is it honest? Is it necessary?

She warned them that what they put on social media can’t be erased, so it will be there for their parents, future teachers and future employers to see.

. . . In the next room, another teacher was helping students think about how and when to write a thank you letter.

The etiquette club “has changed the whole atmosphere of the school,” said Taylorson, a second grade teacher.

At Randallstown Elementary, a program called Boys in the Good encourages boys to work on projects that help their school and community, simultaneously fostering good behavior and good deeds.

Homeschooling passes private school in NC


Shane and Bruce McGregor study in the living room, while their mother, Deanna, reviews curriculum. Photo: Ken Harper/Creative Commons

In North Carolina, homeschoolers now outnumber private school students, writes Genevieve Wood of the Heritage Foundation.

About 3.4 percent of the school-age population is educated at home, according to federal estimates.

“In the Tar Heel state, homeschooling has increased by 27 percent over the past two years,” writes Wood. “Those who run local homeschooling groups in North Carolina say Common Core is a big factor.”

According to a 2011 national survey by the U.S. Education Department, 91 percent of parents said they chose homeschooling because of “a concern about the school environment” which included worry about safety, drugs or negative peer pressure, 77 percent said “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction” was a major reason and 74 percent cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.”

‘Hamilton’ speaks (and sings) to schoolkids

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, with a hip-hop and rap score and a cast of mostly black and Latino actors, is a smash hit on Broadway. Tickets cost hundreds of dollars. Twenty thousand New York City public school students will see the show about the founding fathers for $10 each, thanks to the show’s producers and the Rockefeller Foundation, reports PBS NewsHour.

Teachers use an interactive study curriculum to prepare 11th graders to understand Hamilton.

Kids need ‘serve-and-return’ parents, teachers

Skills such as self-control, resilience and grit are products of a child’s home and school environment, writes Paul Tough in his new book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.
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What’s most important is “the way the adults in their lives interact with them, especially in times of stress.”

That sums up nearly all we need to know about parenting and teaching, writes Annie Murphy Paul on Brilliant Blog.

Warm, “serve-and-return parenting,” which can be done in many ways, “conveys to [children] some deep, even transcendent messages about belonging, security, stability, and their place in the world.”

Effective teachers “convey to their students deep messages—often implicitly or even subliminally—about belonging, connection, ability, and opportunity . . . In the same way that responsive parenting in early childhood creates a kind of mental space where a child’s first tentative steps toward intellectual learning can take place, so do the right kind of messages from teachers in school create a mental space that allows a student to engage in more advanced and demanding academic learning.”

In addition, writes Paul, students must be exposed to deep, meaningful, sensibly sequenced knowledge.”

Girls outscore boys on engineering test

Eighth-grade girls outperformed boys on the first national test of technological literacy, reports Education Week. The Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) exam, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), was designed to measure problem-solving skills rather than knowledge.

Technology and engineering are stressed at Girls' Middle School, a private school in Palo Alto, CA.

Technology and engineering are stressed at Girls’ Middle School, a private school in Palo Alto, CA.

Overall, 43 percent of students tested as proficient or advanced.

The largest gaps were the familiar ones: Black, Latino, low-income and urban students did significantly worse.

Students were given “a series of virtual scenarios aimed at testing their problem-solving abilities and their ability to use information about technology and engineering to develop solutions,” writes Jackie Zubrzycki.

There was no evidence that the gap in scores was due to girls’ reading ability, said Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

As they take the test, students work through multistep scenarios that range from creating a historically accurate museum exhibit about a drought to developing safe bike lanes in a city. Students are provided with background knowledge about the topics before they are asked to answer questions about them: One of the scenarios included a background video about iguanas before students were asked to design an ideal iguana habitat.

. . . on a task related to designing a bike lane, 76 percent of students successfully identified components of a safe bike lane, the first step; 64 percent were able to identify potential adjustments to a sample set of bike lanes to make them safer by, for instance, expanding the lanes; 45 percent were able to successfully redesign the route using an interactive tool. But a smaller portion, 11 percent, could explain the rationale behind the route that they chose.

NAEP plans similar scenario-based tasks on other exams, starting with social studies or history.

Nearly two-thirds of test-takers said they’d learned about solving problems and fixing things at home rather than at school.

When I grew up, girls weren’t supposed to fix things and my father believed that Jews couldn’t fix things, so I didn’t learn much about how things work. Other than magic! I do have good problem-solving skills — if background knowledge is not required.

Take a look at the TEL task video and see if you think this is a useful way to measure technical and engineering skills.

Do single-sex schools make kids smarter?

Single-sex education improves outcomes for boys and girls, concluding a working paper by economist C. Kirabo Jackson, a Northwestern professor.

Trinidad and Tobago has converted more than a fifth of secondary schools to single-sex education.

Trinidad and Tobago has switched to single-sex schooling in more than a fifth of secondary schools.

Trinidad and Tobago converted 20 of its 90 public secondary schools to single-sex education in 2010.

Three years after being assigned to a single-sex secondary school, boys and girls have higher test scores, Jackson found. The improvement in test scores is “about as large as the effect of going from a teacher at the 6th percentile of teacher quality to one at the 50th percentile of teacher quality.”

Five years later, they are more likely to take and pass advanced courses. In the long run, both boys and girls are more likely to have completed secondary school and to have earned the credential required to continue to tertiary education. Importantly, boys are also less likely to have been arrested.

Single-sex schooling doesn’t cost any more than mixed classes, notes Jackson.

It’s a well-done study, writes AEI’s Michael R. Strain, who’s studied single-sex education in North Carolina.